‘Vice’: A director’s journey from SNL to political drama

After establishing himself through a string of popular comedy collaborations with Will Ferrell, including “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” Adam McKay has now shifted gears into becoming one of the most stylistically unique directors working in Hollywood today. His critically lauded 2015 film “The Big Short,” which portrayed the true story of the housing market collapse of 2007, garnered five Academy Award nominations and won Best Adapted Screenplay.

McKay’s newest feature tackles another important piece of recent political history: The role of former Vice President Dick Cheney in the Bush administration. Despite McKay’s heavily publicised liberal views and dislike of the Bush administration, he is able to craft a very nuanced portrait of Cheney, showing his progression from idle youth to one of the most powerful political figures in American history.

The main strength of the film lies in its performances, with a stellar cast lead by Christian Bale as the vice president. Bale fully transforms into the role, convincingly portraying Cheney at all ages. Other standout performances come from Steve Carell as secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife Lynne and Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush. Carell once again proves his talent as a dramatic actor. His Rumsfeld is the epitome of opportunism, using deceit and cold calculation to achieve his ends. Adams takes an unexpected turn in a villainous role, feeling very Lady Macbeth in her portrayal of Cheney’s ambitious spouse. Rockwell’s performance as Bush is by far the most surprising, playing the former president as well-meaning, yet unprepared and easily taken in and used by Cheney and his powerful cronies.

The final star of the film is McKay’s exorbitant direction. In the other major film on the Bush White House, Oliver Stone’s “W.,” there was a great deal of stylistic flourish, but nothing comparable to the decisions made by McKay. This is where the film will divide many audiences. Some will doubtlessly be turned off by the quirkiness and excessiveness of many of McKay’s “gimmicks,” while others, like me, adore their humor and freshness.

There really is no other political film quite like this one. To give an idea of what I mean, one scene includes a Shakespearean soliloquy between Dick and Lynne before bed, and another uses a Monopoly-esque game board to provide a visual aid for Cheney’s influence over all the seats of power in Washington. The film even features a fourth wall-breaking narrator (played by Jesse Plemons of “Breaking Bad”) whose role in the story provides one of the strangest and most interesting twists of the movie.

For me, and likely many of the people reading this review, I was too young during the Bush years to remember or fully comprehend the state the country was in. Seeing many of the events in the film play out was not only educational but deeply shocking. The breadth of influence exercised by this one man over the course of his career is incalculable, permanently changing the very foundation of the country and its political systems.

Ever since I saw the trailer, this had been one of my most anticipated films of 2018. After watching it, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. While I had definitely enjoyed it, it was not at all what I expected. Upon closer consideration and reflection, I gained a deep appreciation for this film both in its performances and artistic merit. I would even go so far as to say this was my favorite film of last year. This movie gets my highest recommendation. If you are at all conflicted about which movies to watch this award season, please choose this one. I guarantee it will be an experience you will not forget.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.